Letters Dec. 2008

13 Principles: Faith or Proof?

Reader: Hello Mesora, I several of your articles you emphasize that Judaism is all about proof, as opposed to Christianity, which is about belief (faith).  In your translation of the Rambam’s 13 Principles, (http://www.mesora.org/13principles.html) you just have statements of what these are (e.g. The Unity of God).  However, in other translations (http://www.ou.org/torah/rambam.htm ) of these principles, I always see “I believe with perfect faith …” (e.g. “I believe with perfect faith that God is One….”. )  It seems that the Rambam wants us to have faith, not proof, as the basis (definition) of being a Jew.  Can you talk to this point a little.

Mesora: If you read Rambam's principles, you will notice that he also "explains" the reasoning behind each. Had he felt these are to be simply believed, without proof, he would not explain the reasons and proofs behind each. Additionally, to call these 13 "fundamentals", one must have a basis of distinguishing "fundamentals", from other ideas not termed as fundamental. Such a distinction made by Rambam clearly indicates an underlying reasoning which "proves" these Principles' higher status as fundamentals.


Reader: I am Jewish by birth but not observant. Seeing the proof on you web site and wanting proof of all laws and ruling is a very attractive attribute to me personally (I am an engineer). However you are the only Orthodox group I have read that emphasizes proof of Judaism so passionately, whereas others either openly or by implication emphasize faith, and not require proof of anything.

Mesora: I understand this problem, but let's properly frame this question: it is not Mesora.org vs. others...its is Rambam vs. today's Jews. And not only Rambam, but all great Torah minds. We must follow the wiser individuals, and not our peers. Just as you allow only a certified doctor perform surgery on your body; so too, only allow the greatest thinkers to be considered, and then endeavor to grasp their reasoning. 

It is due to today's Jews' ignorance of what the Sages taught, that has created a generation that is bereft of the Torah's primary messages. Were people to study, they would discard the Christian tenet of blind faith, and recognize that Moses reminded the people not to forget "what their eyes saw" at Sinai. (Moses asked the Jews to use their minds, and proof. Not faith.) They would know the Rambam's words here. They would learn Duties of the Heart who quotes Torah verses that demand our individual conviction in ideas, not the parroting of others. 

They would recognize that God gave each human being intelligence...so it would be used.


Reader: On a related question, if you say that any law (Rabbinic ruling/ halacha) has to make rational sense, then what is your opinion on some irrational (to me) rulings. Thanks in advance for your answers and your great site: 

1. No fowl and milk (I now keep kosher at home only):

Mesora: Milk cooked with meat was an idolatrous practice, so we do not copy idolatry. Fowl was included in the halachik category of "meat" since people viewed it as such. 

2. No rice on Pesach for Ashkenazi Jews:

Mesora: Rice is similar to grains, so this is a safeguard against Chametz. 

3. Electric light = fire, so one can light Shabas or Chanukah candles using electric lights:

Mesora: If electricity is viewed halachikly as fire, then it may be used equally to fire. Although I am not ruling on this.

4. I keeping family purity, during the “off” time, not even being allowed to touch your spouse due to fear it may lead to “something more”:

Mesora: Another safeguard, as you stated. 

5. Not being able to shake a hand of a woman:

Mesora: This protects against sexual violations. But since we are also commanded in honoring others, and not reciprocating an extended hand will embarrass someone, it is permitted. 



Reader: As a voluntary activity, the benefit of fasting would be for the person who is doing it. It's my understanding that the purpose would be to help one focus his or her energy toward the world of ideas and the world of the eternal. In my view, it's important that fasting not be viewed as a punishment or a type of self- affliction where one punishes the body, as some ascetic groups do. The Torah does not view the body as bad, nor does it view the natural desires, such as the desire for food, as bad. Rather, on Shabbat for example, the Jewish people are enjoined to have a good meal.

If one wished to fast, a person could do so virtually whenever he or she wished. The fasting would not necessarily constitute a halachic act, but would just be a time for abstaining from food. In order to have the fasting constitute a halachic act, one would have to fast in accordance with the halacha given to the Jews, and that varies depending on the day involved. The details of that are beyond my knowledge.

Rabbi, please feel free to add any comments you may have.

Mesora: Rabbi Mendy Feder said it is also to remove us from our instinctual drives which cause sin in the first place, and create the need to repent. Fasting is then a starting point towards repentance...to control our desires that lead to sin. I added that fasting benefits us as we are forced to recognize our dependence on the Creator for our very lives and sustenance. This is the main objective in repentance: to return to God.


Reader: Greetings Rabbi. Recently, I was listening to a lecture by a Rabbi that he made years ago to a group of Ben Noachs. He was talking about kabbalah, its dangers and the many fraudulent people who claim to practice it today. As I understand it, a certain Rabbi is said to have created this golem, a creature with a human-like body but no soul. He was reprimanded by other rabbis. According to the said Rabbi, the golem had no purpose without a soul. It wasn't a magical thing, rather, the Rabbis were saying that a time will come when people know enough to create humans (genetic engineering of sorts) but doing so will not be good for us.

This got me thinking about the snake in the garden of eden. I once heard Rabbi Chait's lecture in which he mentioned that one of the reasons why God saw it fit to 'destroy' the original snake was because it would have been to man's destruction to have an intelligent creature with ego, that was purely instinct, and man would be greatly attracted to that lifestyle. Apparently, while many people today admire an animal's life (eat, drink, sleep, mate), the main reason we look down upon them is because of our superior intelligence.

With this in mind, I asked myself if the golem prohibition is for the same reason cited as danger of the snake. What do you think?

Mesora: Perhaps the genetic creation of humans is unlike the snake, regarding their respective damages. The snake entices us towards hedonism. But creating humans might engender in man the feelings of a "creator", who is on par with God. That would be a greater damage to us than the snake. For incorrect notions about God are the greatest of crimes, as we discussed in this week's critique of Chabad's deification of the Rebbe.

Evil Spirit?

Reader: In my Noahide study group, we were asked about the Jewish custom of Netilas Yiadaim, in the morning, right after the person's rising and the reason this is not an obligation to Noahides.

The Shulchan Oruch says that this is in order to remove an "evil spirit" that rest on Jews hands, since their bodies as being "emptied" so to speak, at night, having their souls gone to heavenly court to the 'daily judgment'. So when the soul returns it said that an "evil spirit" had been in the 'empty' body, so the Jew must wash his hands in Halacha's way, in order to remove it.

What is the meaning of this practice? And why Noahide were not ordened to "remove" this evil spirit as well?

Thank you, and Chazak U'Baruch!

Mesora: Sleep is a purely instinctual state, as the mind is absent. We pray much longer in the morning than we do in the afternoon and evening. This is because as we exit sleep, we require much more effort to return to a state where we engage the intellect. We had just been immersed in the instincts for 8 hours. But this is not the case regarding afternoon and evening services. We have been awake and involved in Torah thought. Washing the hands in the morning is a demonstration of our removal of this state, but unnecessary in the afternoon and evenings. Although Rambam teaches we do wash our hands before all prayers, but perhaps for another reason of preparedness before praying to God.

Mishneh Brura says we wash for possibly touching areas of our body during sleep. The second reason stated by the Mishneh Brura quoting Rashbah, is that we are akin to a new creation each morning. We are required to praise God for this, for our resumed worship of Him. And to serve God - as in Temple - man must first wash his hands. 

Noahides are not obligated in most laws, only in those that are the minimal issues that grant him a right to life. But a Noahide may take on most other laws if he or she so wishes. See our Philosophy link to read more on why Noahides must keep minimally to their commands.